California's car culture, long celebrated in such Beach Boys classics as "Little Deuce Coupe," "409" and "I Get Around," has also spawned an equally robust car theft industry, judging by the latest "Hot Spots" vehicle theft report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
California once again dominates the list of metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, where car owners and auto insurance companies were most vulnerable to theft in 2012. Communities in the Golden State claim eight of the top 10 slots:
1. Modesto, Calif.
2. Fresno, Calif.
3. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
4. Stockton, Calif.
5. Yakima, Wash.
6. San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, Calif.
7. San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, Calif.
8. Vallejo/Fairfield, Calif.
9. Spokane/Spokane Valley, Wash.
10. Redding, Calif.
Six of the California hot spots also placed in last year's top 10. Expand the list, and the state claims 14 of the top 20 best places not to park your car.
Theft goes west
In fact, the western states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming -- saw a 10.6 percent increase in vehicle theft last year. By contrast, the South was down 2.9 percent, the Midwest saw a 3.1 percent decline, and thefts in the Northeast were down 7.9 percent from the previous year.
The NICB ratings are consistent with preliminary FBI statistics for 2012 that point to a 1.3 percent national increase in vehicle thefts, following eight years of declines. The final numbers are due this fall.
So how many car thefts are we talking here? In Modesto, there were 4,260 reported thefts. But drive west to the more densely populated San Francisco Bay area, and you're looking at 28,220 thefts last year. Because the Hot Spots report is based on population, areas like Modesto with fewer total thefts but smaller populations often rank higher than areas with more stolen cars overall but a smaller incidence per capita.
Safety in Hawaii -- or at home
Where's Waldo to park without risking his ride? He'll find an absolutely safe space on the lovely isle of Maui, Hawaii, where nary a single vehicle was reported missing last year in the Kahului/Wailuku/Lahaina MSA.
The NICB recommends this "four layers of protection" approach to avoid vehicle theft and its potentially negative impact on your auto insurance rates:
• Common sense: Remember to take your keys with you, close your windows, lock your doors and park in a safe, well-lit area.
• Anti-theft devices: Invest in visible and audible alarms, brake and wheel locks and other theft-deterrent devices.
• Ride immobilizers: Prevent "hot-wiring" with smart keys, fuse cut-offs and other onboard technology that prevents thieves from starting your vehicle's engine.
• Tracking devices: Install a GPS or other tracking device that alerts you if your vehicle has been moved, and helps police locate it if it's stolen.
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.